Months after the coronavirus pandemic ground collegiate athletics to a screeching halt, one sport seems to be returning to a state as close to normal as possible.
UNC men’s golf head coach Andrew DiBitetto said he and his staff are focusing on what they’d be doing during a typical summer: checking in on Tar Heel golfers as they compete in — and sometimes win — amateur tournaments across the country.
“Overall, I’d say it’s been a pretty good two or three weeks,” DiBitetto said. “It even brings us back to ‘normal’ a little bit. Because just simply clicking the refresh button on three or four tournaments at a time is what we are normally doing this time of year, as we are watching our guys play at summer tournaments, as well as recruits.”
One of the Tar Heels seeing the most success on the tournament circuit is first-year Peter Fountain, who placed second at the North Carolina Open on June 10. This past weekend, he defeated Oklahoma's Jonathan Brightwell in a playoff to win the North Carolina Amateur with a clutch par on the 18th hole.
Prior to the North Carolina Open, Fountain said he had not competed in organized play since October. After graduating high school in December and coming to UNC a semester early, Fountain chose to redshirt for the rest of the year. Since golf counts as both a fall and spring sport, redshirting allowed him to conserve a semester of eligibility.
“I’m a really competitive person, so I just missed the competition so much,” Fountain said, “I’ve been able to play matches with my friends on my home course or with the guys at UNC… but getting back into the actual tournament mode has definitely been good, just from the competition side. I missed that so much.”
DiBitetto said he's excited to see what the future holds for Fountain.
“That’s a pretty good field that he just beat, especially in the playoff,” DiBitetto said. “Jonathan Brightwell is a second-team All-American, so for Peter as an ‘incoming freshman’ to be able to take him down in a playoff is pretty special.”
Golf is one of the few sports where players can complete a game and abide by social distancing guidelines — but even if you can still tee off at some golf courses, DiBitetto said, some aspects of the game have changed.
“There are a couple of moments throughout each tournament where you have to create new habits,” DiBitetto said. “On the first tee, it’s always proper to shake your playing partner’s hand, so now you’re not doing that. During the round, you’re making sure you’re not getting too close, or trying to not have multiple guys touch a pin on a hole. But in terms of playing the sport… for these guys, it’s kinda the same as it’s always been.”
Going forward, both DiBitetto and Fountain said they don't know whether collegiate golf — or collegiate athletics at all — would commence in the fall. But both said they were hopeful about the schedule continuing as planned.
“We just need to be a lot more cautious right now,” Fountain said. “The summer schedule is looking good, so hopefully we can finish that out, and hopefully we’re still able to have a fall season — but you just never know with this stuff.”
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